Japanese festival of joy bonds families, ancestors

Published: Friday, July 11 2014 12:18 p.m. MDT

Updated: Friday, July 11 2014 12:18 p.m. MDT

Megan Matsuura and members of her family try to learn a dance as dancer prepare Wednesday, July 9, 2014, at the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple for the Obon dance festival planned for Saturday, July 12.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Clicking sounds filled the air as dancers sounded their Kachi-Kachis in the gymnasium of a local Buddhist temple.

This was one of the final rehearsals before their public performances at the Obon Japanese Festival Saturday at the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple, 211 W. 100 South.

Paper lanterns hung on the gymnasium walls, bought with a $5 donation to the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple, each bearing the name of a deceased person. They will be hung above the dance area during Saturday's performance.

Maxine Furubayashi, 93, has been teaching dances for Obon since 1948. She was joined during Wednesday's rehearsal by her daughter, her 25-year-old granddaughter and another instructor. Her participation is a matter of tradition.

"It's one of the main events of the year," she said.

Obon, or Kangi E, is a Japanese Festival of Joy. It comes from the Ullumbana Sutra given by the Buddha to one of his disciples, Maudgalyayana, who had become grieved upon discovering that his mother had gone to what Buddhists call the realm of hungry ghosts.

The Buddha told the disciple to perform selfless acts, or dana, to redeem his mother's soul. After the acts were completed, the disciple learned in a meditation that his mother was freed from the realm. Maudgalyayana danced for joy. The word Kangi E, or gathering of joy, comes from this man's experience.

The disciple's selflessness in working for his mother's salvation illustrates the connection between the living and the dead, explained Rev. Jerry Hirano.

"She's still connected (to) a part of him. His actions are a result of her life. If he's able to act through selfless giving, it not only frees him but it frees her," he said.

For the Japanese, the Obon holiday is similar to Americans' Memorial Day. People go to their hometowns and often visit graves as part of the holiday. Hirano will be visiting 10 to 12 cemeteries in Utah and Nevada over the next few weeks.

Saturday's Obon celebration will have authentic Japanese food, including sushi and gyoza, starting at 1 p.m. and booths selling kimonos, umbrellas and other Japanese items from the temple's newly opened bookstore. Taiko drum performers will start at 7 p.m. and the dance portion of the festival at 8, with 16 different dances in the yagura. Those in the public are invited up for the final three dances.

"At this temple all we do is eat and chat. If you eat and chat, you're at the right place," said Dot Richeda, Salt Lake Obon festival chairwoman.

On Sunday the temple will hold a Hatsubon, or first Obon, service at 1 p.m. for family members of those within the Sangha who died over the previous year.

The festival is free to the public, except for food and merchandise. It is one of three fundraisers for the temple and proceeds will go to the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple.

Email: wevans@deseretnews.com

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